MOVING TO THE JEMEZ RACE START/FINISH AREA
This morning we took Race Director Aaron Goldman's advice and moved our
camper over to a large, shaded parking area diagonally across
from the Posse Shack, the start/finish of the race. As the crow
flies, this is only about a mile across Pueblo Canyon from the
RV parking area on another mesa where we've camped the past six
days. By road, however, it's a seven- or eight-mile drive through
town to reach this spot on North Mesa:
We settled in between two large trees, trying to take up
as few parking spots as possible. By this evening, other runners
arrived with their vans and campers to spend the night close to
the race start. We needed to arrive before them so we'd have
room to maneuver the camper -- and we'll have to wait until
they're gone to leave. We've driven over to
this location several times the past week, scouting out the
parking situation, the first and last
miles of the race course, other trails I could run, and the
general lay of the land.
We liked our new dry camping "home" between an RV storage lot,
baseball fields, and large stables where folks lease space for
their horses (goats, chickens, roosters, etc.). It's fun to run or walk
through the stable/arena area and see all the various animals
and types of barns and other buildings that have been added over
The first half mile of the race is designed to spread the
runners out a little bit before they hit single-track trail in
The race starts at the Posse Shack and winds through the stable area,
below (note the arrow in the dirt),
before making a left and dropping off on into Bayo Canyon,
below, just across the gorge from the overlook at the end
of the North Bayo Bench Trail.
Too bad it's dark the first couple miles of the 50-miler and the
runners don't get this great view of the canyon and Jemez
Mountains! It is light by the time the 50Kers and
half-marathoners start their races, though.
The race finish is a little different, arriving back up on the
mesa top closer to the Posse Shack. That feeder trail is rocky
at the top, too:
I will have a great view out my living room window tomorrow
afternoon as runners reach the top and dash toward the
I took the next shot from our camper window, aiming the camera
toward the Posse Shack (brown building, middle left). Runners will come up a
trail to this road from the right and finish in front of the
Posse Shack, a building used by the Sheriff's Dept. and other
community organizations for various events.
KWAGE MESA TRAILS
There are both paved bike trails and dirt paths on North Mesa.
The dirt trails continue past the stables and arenas, below, to
Kwage Mesa, a long finger of high plateau with more great
views of the surrounding mesas, canyons, and mountain
ranges. I found about four miles of fairly smooth, flat dirt roads and
trails on this loop -- and they were right out our camper door!
The trail is a loop with an out-and-back section. The north side
of the loop consists of dirt road for over a mile to an
overlook, below, at one "end" of the mesa. These mesas
take off in all directions and usually have several "fingers" of
various lengths, as you can see on the map above.
The next photo shows a view north toward Bayo Canyon and Deer
Trap Mesa. You can see a couple of the trails down in the canyon:
When I looped around to the south side of the mesa the trail
turned to single-track. It is rockier and has more vegetation
than the road section but it is still easy to run if you don't
get as distracted by the views as I did!
For example, I could easily see over Pueblo Canyon to our last
camping spot above the school system's large building project:
There were great views of the Jemez Mountains as I headed west,
back toward our camper:
Next time we're here I want to explore more of the trails
through other canyons -- and the correct one on Deer Trap Mesa.
THE MITCHELL TRAILHEAD
Jim and I both had two run/hikes from the Mitchell Trailhead at
Arizona and 45th Street. This is one of the main portals to the
trails in the Jemez Mountains, right at the northwestern edge of
This is also where firefighters valiantly fought one side of the devastating
Cerro Grande fire in May of 2000. The homes along the base of
the mountains are relatively new, replacing some of the 400+
houses that were damaged or destroyed in that fire.
Stark reminders of the fire: deadfall, a
few surviving pines,
new houses that replaced several that burned
Well over 40,000 acres of land were also burned. The Mitchell
Trail and others on the eastern watershed of the Jemez Mountains
travel through terrain that is still in recovery mode, with many snags yet to fall.
There are caution sign all over the burned area warning
hikers and campers that it often takes eight to ten years for snags to
fall. It's now nine years since that fire! Be careful.
It's very interesting to run or hike along these trails and
morph from burned to unburned forest:
The landscape is strangely beautiful despite the blackened tree
trunks lying on the ground or reaching up toward the sky. In
some areas the downed trees are crisscrossed in piles as if a
child had tossed a fistful of pick-up sticks into the air and
left them just like they landed on the floor. The photo at the
beginning of this section is a good example.
As soon as possible after the fire, volunteers planted native
grasses and wildflowers along the trails closest to town to
reduce erosion and jump-start the process of regrowth. Enough
time has elapsed now that new
groundcovers, flowers, shrubs, and small trees like Gambel oak
and New Mexico locust are beginning to fill in the gaps left by
the fire. It will take a
long time before
these trails are shady again, though.
I wish I could have seen these mountains before the fire, thick
with dark green Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs that stood as
tall as 150 feet..
No, on second thought, it's probably better that I didn't. I
know many of the residents still feel a tremendous loss.
As an aside, Jim and I got rather concerned late yesterday
afternoon when we looked out the camper windows and saw huge,
billowing clouds of smoke behind a ridge of mountains to the
north of Los Alamos. It wasn't all that many miles from town. I took pictures, of course.
Oh, my! Was another part of the Santa Fe National Forest on fire
See why we were concerned about the forest??
(As you can see from this photo,
we were still
parked at the RV area above the school construction project.)
Fortunately, the Jemez Mountain race website had another photo of the
smoke and explained to worried runners that it was a prescribed
burn by the forest service, not a wildfire.
That was both reassuring and a real
surprise. I was out there running and walking for five hours
yesterday and know how windy it was on the mesas around town.
Although the canyons were calm, it seemed like a big risk to
deliberately start a "managed" fire on such a windy day.
But what do I know? I understand the importance of prescribed
burns. It's just that I've seen the results of too many natural
(lightning) and arson forest fires that got out of control, and
the timing of this burn seemed questionable.
THE PERIMETER TRAIL
A few hundred feet up from the Mitchell trailhead you have the
option of going right along the mostly-level Perimeter Trail or left on
the gnarly Mitchell Trail, which ascends to Guadje Ridge. The
Jemez Mountain race covers both trails.
On our first run we chose the easy direction, a nice trail with
some roots and rocks that undulates a little on its way around
the northern end of town. The four photos in the Mitchell
Trailhead section above are along the Perimeter Trail, as are
the next two.
The trail started off through the burn area, then we got to the
beautiful pines that were untouched. I know it's a worn out
cliché, but the difference in the trail "ambiance" was like day and night.
We passed the Woodland Trail and
turned around when we got to Maple Drive. The race course
continues on shady trails through Rendijo and Bayo Canyons to the start/finish
THE MITCHELL TRAIL
On our second run/hike from the Mitchell Trailhead we went left
at the intersection with the Perimeter Trail and continued on
the Mitchell Trail, which was built by hand by young David Mitchell in
1974 as an Eagle Scout project. It is a rugged 2.6 mile, 1,540-foot
ascent that first climbs gradually through or next to a (usually) dry streambed,
then up steep switchbacks with loose rocks and sand
to Guadje Ridge (elev. 8,852 feet). There is a
major false summit about halfway to the top:
All three Jemez races go up this trail about five miles into
each race but runners return to the finish a different way. When Jim and I did our training run on the Mitchell Trail, we
went out and back.
Cody and I didn't make it all the way to Guadje Ridge that day.
Not only was I going slower than Jim, but also the terrain was steeper and more treacherous than I should be
doing with knees that don't like to bend much more than 90
degrees. Outbound (uphill) isn't the problem; coming back
down steep, unstable terrain is my problem.
Jim went on ahead another 4/10ths mile to the top of the ridge and scouted
out the intersection up there so he'd know where to go on race
day. Not that that would be a problem -- our friend Sandy
Powell and another volunteer (wo)manned that aid station on race
day with professionalism, panache, and persistence. With three races and
repeated trips through the Guaje-Mitchell Aid Station, they
probably served runners close to a thousand times all day and
into the night.
Talk about endurance!
View up to Guadje Ridge; Jim is a tiny
white speck on the trail about 1/4 mile ahead of me
In addition, they had to hike up well before the first runners
reached their aid station, wait to hike back down in the dark
until everyone came through, AND carry a bunch of stuff both
directions! That's 'way above and beyond. Thanks, you two!
Other volunteers carried all of the water jugs and most of the
supplies up to the ridge this week. I'm impressed.
I had enough trouble getting myself up and down the trail;
I wouldn't have been able to carry water, too. Thanks to all who
did this! (I wasn't even in the race but had much tamer
Long zoom shot of Jim nearing the
ridgeline; the aid station will be on the left during the race.
I'm sorry I missed the panorama visible on Guadje Ridge. There
are scenic views toward heavily treed, unburned mountain peaks to the
south, north, and west that all the runners got to enjoy. Jim
didn't carry a camera on this training run or during the race so we don't have any shots from
that location. However, the views north, south, and east from
the false summit and other parts of the trail I was on are
fairly scenic, too -- even without the trees that used to be
Cody and I turned around and followed Jim when he came running back down to
Jim heads down the trail to the false
you can see the trail turn right to go down the remaining switchbacks
After I made it back down some steep trail with loose rocks and
sand to the false summit, I was able to run most of the way to
the parking area.
Jim and Cody near the bottom of the
In the 50-mile race on Saturday, Jim would continue
going northeast along Guadje Ridge on the return and come back to the
finish a different way.
I'll show more photos from the Mitchell Trail in the next entry
about the Jemez Mountain Trail Runs.
There are at least two types of trail maps for Los Alamos
County, which includes the town of White Rock. We got ours at
the visitors' center in Los Alamos. Because it also included
streets and was printed in a non-topo format, I found the
map put out by
to be easier to read and follow than the glossy one from
parks department. The latter has good information
about the length and difficulty of the most popular trails,
however, so I recommend consulting both maps to get the most
complete "picture" of the trail network.
Next entry: the Jemez Mountain trail ultras
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil